“Love, Life, Liberty, and Land” – Deuteronomy 20:1-20

December 10th, 2017

Dt. 20:1-20

Love, Life, Liberty, and Land

Aux Text: Eph 6:10-18

Call to Worship: Psalm 20


Service Orientation:  God wants to be Lord of your entire life.  Especially as you fight for your passions:  love, life, liberty and land.  God wants you to love, trust, and follow Him in all that you do because God’s plan is for you to live a life in shalom.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  — Jeremiah 29:11


Background Information:

  • This chapter does not pretend to be a manual for military operations and it is hermeneutically futile to read it or criticize it as if it were. Rather, as in the law of the king (which is no manual for government administration either), it is concerned with fundamental principles, principles that must govern Israelites at war as in any sphere of life.  The two most basic covenantal principles of Israel’s life under God were:  love for Yahweh (6:5) and love for one’s neighbor.  This vertical and horizontal duality was fundamental to the covenant dynamic.  Love (as covenant loyalty and trust) for God can be seen operative in the opening challenge of 20:1-4, but is there any way that love for neighbor can be operative in the context of war?  Two responses may be made to this question.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 227)
  • The placement of these instructions immediately after the lex talionis (“the principle of retaliation”) suggests that in warfare even soldiers must recognize the limits of violence, and the state for whom one is fighting must respect this principle when dealing with the enemy. Against the backdrop of Moses’ instructions on how to pursue righteousness in the internal affairs of the nation (16:18-19:21), he now instructs the Israelites on pursuing righteousness in external relationships.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 467)
  • Since the three main topics of this chapter are formally introduced with casuistic clauses (vv. 1, 10, 19), some refer to it as a “War Manual.” However, the agenda is much more profound, presenting not only a theology of war but also of Israel’s place among the nations.  Indeed the chapter is dominated by “God statements,” which would not normally be included in “laws” or “war manuals” (vv. 1, 4, 13, 16, 17, 18).  The key to this chapter is not Israel’s relationship to the nations but her relationship to Yahweh, who is always referred to as “the LORD your God.”  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 468)
  • Love of neighbor is not incompatible with discipline and punishment. One’s duty to one’s neighbor may include, for example, the duty to expose the apostate or idolater or to execute the criminal.  Love of neighbor did not exclude the need to “purge the evil from among you.”  On a wider canvas, likewise, the historical execution of divine justice upon the wickedness of the Canaanites is not incompatible with the overall belief in God’s ultimate intention to bless the nations through Israel.  Nor does it prevent the remarkable degree of social compassion and legal protection afforded to the foreigner within Israel, even in Deuteronomy.  The mere fact, then, that Deuteronomy makes provision for war does not invalidate all it has to say concerning human ethical duties of compassion, neighborliness, and generosity.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 227)
  • But the most important perspective on the laws of warfare is the part they play, along with the narratives of conquest, in symbolizing God’s war on evil. Christians may wish to “spiritualize” this, and to hold that the earthly wars of Israel correspond to wars in heaven between the forces of good and evil.  It is true, of course, that there is “spiritual warfare.”  But spiritualization of the struggle between good and evil is not the whole truth, for it may simply transpose the problem of war from one sphere (earth) to another (heaven).  Apocalyptic literature, like the book of Daniel, knows of a correspondence between earthly wars and heavenly ones; this is the significance of the conflict between the “princes” of Persia and Greece, who are opposed by the “prince” Michael, who leads God’s heavenly armies (Dn 10:20-11:1).  Evil and conflict take earthly forms, and cannot, in the end, be separated from the war in heaven.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 323)
  • It is precisely within the imperfections and fallenness of human life that love for neighbor has to operate. And Deuteronomy is well aware that sometimes the priority is to work for the humane within the inhumane, to mitigate the worst effects of human sin, to control the worst human instincts, to protect the interests of those most vulnerable in contexts of brokenness (cf. Its laws on polygamy, slavery, and divorce).  Seen from this perspective on the one hand, and in the light of the horrors and extremes of cruelty in ancient warfare on the other, the provisions of 20:5ff. And 21:10-14 are an exercise of neighbor love within the constraints of the grim reality of warfare.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 227-8)
  • (v. 1) Horses and chariots were the pride of the great ancient Near-Eastern armies. They could produce a severe sense of inferiority among the Israelites who had no opportunity to acquire such resources during their wilderness wanderings.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 483)
  • (v. 3) The part played by the priest symbolizes the fact that the war belongs to Yahweh, just as war in general was religious in the ANE. In Joshua (3:1-4), priests play a prominent role in the military march on the land, carrying the ark of the covenant ahead of the people.  Deuteronomy says nothing about the ark of the covenant here (and little elsewhere; cf. 10:8).  Its interest in the priest in this instance is as the one who places the forthcoming war under the authority of Yahweh.  His opening words, “Hear, Israel!” (3), are reminiscent of the Mosaic basic call to obedience and faith in Yahweh (6:4; cf. 4:1; 5:1).  They declare that the war is to begin, and call the people to fight under Yahweh.  It may be, too, that the priest has a kind of judicial role here, extended from his judicial role in legal affairs (cf. 17:9; 21:5), to represent the judgment of Yahweh among the nations (Braulik, 144).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 318)
  • (v. 4) If we focus our attention primarily on the bigness of the opposition, we would lose heart and give up the project because of the odds that are stacked up against us. But here Moses gives some other things on which the people can focus.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 484)
  • (v. 10) The assumption is that these cities will be defeated if they enter into battle. So this offer of peace is actually “the terms of a vassal treaty” (Craigie). This helps us understand the somewhat puzzling next verse:  “and if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you” (20:11).  Craigie explains, “If the city accepted the terms, it would open its gates to the Israelites, as a symbol of surrender and to grant the Israelites access to the city; the inhabitants would become vassals and would serve Israel.”  This is a humane response in comparison to what was done in those days.  Often vassals were subjected to great humiliation and brutality.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 493)
  • (v. 10) An offer of peace probably implies a vassal treaty in which the city would become subject to Israel. The terms of surrender strictly include only such subject labor.  No other humiliation, violation of human rights, excessive brutality, or plunder were to be allowed.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 230)
  • (v. 12) Siege warfare was a terrifying experience. A city was literally starved, humiliated, and battered into submission.  Ugaritic literature contains a prayer for a city under siege.  The siege usually was planned to begin just before the city could harvest its ripened grains, thus cutting them off from their lifeline of food supply.

In Hittite siege warfare, when an offer of surrender was refused, the exits of the city were blocked, cutting off supplies and reinforcements.  No communications from the city were permitted.  The gates of the city were watched closely and eventually seized.  Night attacks were especially effective.  Any wood in the walls or gates of a city were set on fire, and battering rams were constructed and used to loosen and weaken walls and gates.  Sappers tunneled under walls, loosening bricks and weakening the foundations of the walls.  Siege towers threatened the walls, while great ramps of earth were built to reach the tops of the walls or to cross over moats.

Psychological warfare created a “fifth column” within the ranks of the enemy.  Starvation of the city set in, and the atrocious conditions of plague, pestilence, internal dissension, and incessant violence and death began.  (John H. Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol. 1, 489-90)

  • (vss. 12-13) The recalcitrant city is punished by the slaughter of all its men. This is not the “devotion to destruction” that befalls the cities of the land itself, but rather an emasculation to ensure no further threat.  The victory is portrayed in terms similar to the victory in the promised land:  Yahweh gives the enemy into the hand of Israel (cf. 3:2-3; 7:24) and they are allowed to take plunder, including, in this case, the women and children.  (A further law governing the capture of a woman in war is found at 21:10-14).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 320)
  • (v. 13) Moses’ words in verse 13 read literally, “Put men to the mouth of the sword.” There is grim preciseness in what he said.  Archaeologists have uncovered ancient swords designed so that the blades of the sword appeared to be long tongues protruding from the mouths of wild beasts, and the handles of the swords were depicted as the beasts’ heads.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 184)
  • (v. 13) They are to slaughter all the male inhabitants (v. 13b). Echoing an idiom from 13:15 [16] Moses calls for the slaughter of all adult males, who represent the key to resistance and the backbone of the town’s economy and administration.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 475)
  • (v. 14) This enjoyment of the plunder, however, did not include the raping of women, which was, and sadly still is, common in war. Dt 21:10-14 presents a procedure for the respectful treatment of women who have been captured.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 493)
  • (v. 16) Joshua seems to have applied the specifications of Dt 20:16 only to Jericho (Josh 6:24), Ai (8:26-28), and Hazor (11:11-13). While the populations of other conquered cities appear to have been annihilated, the cities and their resources were apparently spared for Israelite use, in fulfillment of Dt 6:10-11.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 480)
  • (v. 17) While the Amalekites were not included in the Canaanite nations targeted for herem, because of their interference with Yahweh’s plan for Israel at the time of the exodus, Samuel charged Saul to apply the policy to them (1 Sm 15). Saul’s incomplete compliance contributed ultimately to Yahweh’s retraction of kingship from him.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 480)
  • (v. 17) As Moses had emphatically declared in 9:1-24, this did not mean the Israelites’ superior moral state entitled them to the land; rather, it represents Yahweh’s strategy for preserving for himself a holy people. But the elimination of the Canaanites was neither the first nor the last time God did/would do this.  The difference between the destruction of the Canaanites and all of humanity (except for Noah’s family) as described in Genesis 6-9 is one of scale and of agency.  God chooses a variety of ways to punish people for wickedness.  Sometimes it is through natural disaster, sometimes through plagues or drought or sickness (Lv 26 and Dt 28).  The difference with the Canaanites is that this time he chose human beings to be the agents of judgment.  But he would do so many times in history.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 483)
  • (vss. 16-18) The book of Joshua narrates the implementation of this “destruction,” especially in the cases of Jericho and Ai (Josh 6-8). The rule of the herem is that “you must leave nothing alive” (16; cf. Josh 11:14), that is, destroy “everything that breathes.”  This is variously interpreted as people and animals (Josh 6:21, Jericho) and as people only, the livestock being available as booty (Josh 8:2, Ai).  At both Jericho and Ai the booty was included in the “devotion to destruction,” which in this respect, too, distinguishes the herem from ordinary war.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 321)
  • (vss. 16-18) Verses 16-18 are about the treatment of nations in lands that are going to be occupied by Israel. What we have here is a summary of chapter 7.  Everything that breathes in those lands is to be completely destroyed.  We have discussed this difficult concept in our study of chapter 7.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 493)
  • (v. 17) As we noted in chapter 7, the verbal expression “to destroy totally” expresses a concept that is as much religious as military. This explains why in 7:1-6 and here the rationale does not address the military threat the enemy poses, but focuses totally on the religious implications of their survival.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 476)
  • (v. 18) The rationale for the destruction of the peoples of the land, that they might lead Israel to worship false gods, is similar to the one in 7:4 (cf. 12:30; Jdg 2:1-3). (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 321)
  • (v. 18) The earlier texts had explicitly repudiated the worship of Canaanite gods (Ex 23:24, 33; 34:14-15), called for the obliteration of their cultic installations (Ex 23:24; 34:13; Nm 33:52), prohibited the Israelites from making any covenants with the Canaanites or their gods (Ex 23:32; 34:15) or intermarrying with the Canaanites (Ex 34:16), and warned of the seductive attraction of Canaanite religious practices (Ex 23:33; 34:15). These motifs drive chapter 7 and underlie 20:18.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 477)
  • (v. 19) In ancient warfare strategy, the trees of vanquished territories would be cut down for several reasons: (1) as wood for siege structures and fuel for the invaders; (2) as retribution for the enemy’s resistance and defiance; (3) as a tactic in psychological warfare, to hasten submission.  While the form of the prohibition suggests a comprehensive policy against cutting down any trees, the motive clause, “because you can eat their fruit,” and the specification “fruit trees” in verse 20 focuses on the implications of deforestation for the food supply.  In the long term, using the wood of fruit trees to construct siege works is counterproductive to Israel’s well-being.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 478-9)
  • This holy war is marked by a number of distinctives which set it apart from other types of wars: (1) A holy war was not undertaken without consulting Yahweh (1 Sm 28:5-6; 30:7-8; 2 Sm 5:19, 22-23).  (2) The men of Israel were consecrated to the Lord before (and during) battle (1 Sm 21:5; 2 Sm 11:11; Isa 13:3).  (3) Men that would offend God were removed from camp (Dt 23:9-11).  (4) Yahweh was present in the camp (Dt 23:14), and He gave His leader special powers, although it was God Himself who was the Captain of the hosts of Israel and could alone deliver His people (Jdg 4:14-15; 7:2ff.; 1 Sm 13:5, 15; 14:6-23).  (5) At the climax of the battle God sent terror and panic into the midst of the enemy, thus bringing about their overthrow (Dt 2:25; Josh 2:9; 5:1; 1 Sm 5:11; 7:10).  (6) The spoils of war were under the ban of sacred consecration and were the exclusive right of God.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 225)
  • The reason for grouping together these five laws, which are apparently so different from one another, as well as for attaching them to the previous regulations, is to be found in the desire to bring out distinctly the sacredness of life and of personal rights from every point of view, and impress it upon the covenant nation. (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 1, 404)
  • So all our battles should be done using God’s principles. We’ve all heard the statement that all is fair in love and war.  Christians reject that idea for love and also for war!  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 494)
  • Moses returns to the theme of warfare in three additional texts: 21:10-14; 23:9-14 [10-15]; and 24:5. These six texts share several features.  All open with a temporal clause introduced by “when.”  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 467)


The question to be answered is . . . Why are we talking about fighting and war during Advent, when we are supposed to be thinking about peace and good will toward men?


Answer:  Because peace, love, and security can only be achieved with those on whom God’s favor rests.  In a Fallen world Jesus fights to bring our world into a position to enjoy God’s favor.


War is simply an inevitable part of life, like law and punishment, and therefore Israel, as a nation among nations, must prepare for war and know how to conduct it.  All nations had laws and customs governing war.  If Israel is to fight wars, however, it is to do so at the instigation of Yahweh and under his leadership.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 322-3)


A professional soldier understands that war means killing people, war means maiming people, war means families left without fathers and mothers.  All you have to do is hold your first dying soldier in your arms, and have that terribly futile feeling that his life is flowing out and you can’t do a anything about it; then you understand the horror of war.   Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar.   And still there are things worth fighting for.  — GENERAL NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF


The Word for the Day is . . . Fight


The church is indeed engaged in warfare; but this conflict is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers arrayed against God and his church.  This battle is not fought with physical spears and swords but with all the spiritual resources provided by God (Eph 6:10-20).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 486)


When we go to war we do not discard Biblical principles.  Military personnel cannot separate their religious life from their military life.  For Christians, military life is part of their religious life.  To us today this passage can play a dual role.  It gives guidelines for the conduct of war, but it also gives guidelines on how we should face other battles that we face.  The Christian life is often described using battle language (2 Cor 10:3, 4; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Tm 6:12; 2 Tm 4:7).  We can learn something about God’s approach to the battles we encounter in life by looking at his rules for war given in Dt 20.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 483)


What can 21st Century American Christians  learn from Deuteronomy chapter 20?:

I-  Warriors who know they are fighting for God and that God is with them are fearless.  (Dt 20:1-4 see also: Josh 1:9; Ps 18:34-35, 39; 20:7-8; 27:3; 33:16; 44:3, 6-7; 60:12; 108:13; 140:7; 144:1, 10; Prv 3:5-6; 21:31; Isa 7:14; 9:6-7; Mt 1:18-25; Lk 2:9-11; Acts 5:39; Rom 8:28-37; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Jn 4:4)


Because this is the Lord’s battle, size is not a problem.  Unsuitable soldiers would be a problem, for they might fail to carry out God’s wishes; so they must be excluded.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 488)


From a human perspective, Israel had genuine reasons for being terrified, but their march into Canaan wasn’t a typical military campaign.  They went with the Lord’s supernatural help and with his personal promise.  The same Lord who “brought you up out of Egypt. . . is the one who goes with you to fight for you.”  The priests often went ahead of the army, to signal the army, to encourage the soldiers, or to praise the Lord in the battle (Nm 31:3-6; Josh 6:3-11; 2 Chr 20:14-22).  What a powerful reminder that Israel didn’t gain the land because of superior military technology!  The land became theirs under the blessing of the Lord.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 182)


Satan wants us to waver.  His job is to keep us from believing and trusting God.  Every attack we experience is on our faith.  God has said “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23).  Our faith is important to Him and us.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


The sum, therefore, is that, amidst the very clang of arms, they must not be in such confusion as not to recognize that they are under the guardianship of God, or to lose the confidence that they will be safe in reliance on His power.  He does not, however, encourage them rashly to engage in war, but takes it for granted that there is a legitimate cause for it; because this would be a gross abuse of God’s name, to seek a prosperous issue from Him, when we are engaged in anything contrary to His command.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. II, 100-1)


The present passage assumes that Israel will wage no war of aggression.  She can then go forth fearlessly to battle, cheered on by the priests and confident that God is with his people, though only when their cause appears righteous in his sight.  In the long run the might of man’s spirit is greater than the might of physical odds.  When a nation senses that its direction is approved by God, fear goes.  When fear goes, man is at his relaxed best, his judgment is sound and his acts count.  But the contrary is just as true.  Without a substantiating faith, any nation or people is vulnerable.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2., 455)


The battle against despondency is a battle to believe the promises of God.  And that belief in God’s future grace come by hearing the Word.   And so preaching to ourselves is at the heart of the battle.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 304)


James says that not believing in the sovereign rights of God to manage the details of your future is arrogance.  The way to battle this arrogance is to yield to the sovereignty of God in all the details of life, and rest in his infallible promises to show himself mighty on our behalf (2 Chr 16:9), to pursue us with goodness and mercy every day (Ps 23:6), to work for those who wait for him (Isa 64:4), and to supply us with all we need to live for his glory (Heb 13:21).  In other words, the remedy for pride is unwavering faith.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 93)


True peace does not come from extreme indifference, nor does it originate from becoming so “spiritual” that you fail to notice the world around you.  Peace is the fruit of being confident in God’s love; it is born of the revelation that, regardless of the battle, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).  You are not self-assured, you are God-assured.   (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 55)


“Victory” (4) is strictly “deliverance” or “salvation.”  Thus, though Israel is depicted as “going out” to war against distant enemies, the issue is still conceived as a threat to them from forces hostile to Yahweh.  The conflict has a spiritual dimension.  The key point in the laws about war is faith in Yahweh.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 318)


The Assyrians were able to muster vast armies and crush small states with them.  Israel and Judah were themselves small states, yet this paragraph recommends that their armies should be reduced, not built up!  At the practical level, it is true that distracted, discontented or panicky soldiers are likely to sap the morale of the rest; but the real message is not that a more elite army is a better one, but that God fights for his own people.  We can readily assent to the truth of this if we apply the lesson outside the military sphere; a small congregation of dedicated and single-minded Christians is far more effective than a large congregation of half-hearted and discontented people.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 118-9)


20:5-9.  Certainly, this faith assumption is required to justify what is prescribed here.  There is no attempt to match force with force.  There is no competitive arms race.  The whole spirit of this chapter is actually antimilitaristic.  Faced with superior technology and superior numbers (an army, [lit. a people] greater than yours, v. 1), Israel’s response was to announce coolly several exemptions that would actually reduce the size of their own army, and would do so by sending home some of what were probably the youngest and fittest men!  Dependence on Yahweh’s superiority liberated Israel from dependence on human superiority and thereby freed some Israelites from military service.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 228)


It was an honorable tradition in Israel that, with Yahweh leading the hosts and a people believing in Yahweh, a foe vastly larger and stronger could easily be routed.  One has only to recall the battle of Gideon (Jdg 7:1-23) and other subsequent battles (1 Kgs 20:27-30; 2 Chr 32:7-8).  The same happened in the later wars of Judas Maccabeus against the Seleucid Greeks (1 Macc 3:16-19; 4:8-11).  Yahweh’s “I am/I will be with you” is the preeminent promise in the Bible (Gn 26:3; 28:15; Ex 3:12; Dt 2:7; 20:1, 4; 31:6, 8, 23; Josh 1:5, 9; Jdg 6:12, 16; Jer 1:8, 19; 15:20; 30:11; Isa 41:10; 43:5, and passim; cf. The risen Jesus’ words in Mt 28:20).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 581-2)


For the prophets, trust in chariots translated into a lack of faith (Isa 30:15-17; 31:1-3; Hos 14:4 [3]).  See also Ps 20:8 [7]; Prv 21:31.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 582)


Priests played a prominent role in military operations.  In narratives reporting wars that took place in the time of Moses, Saul, and David, priests are seen to be accompanying the army; carrying sacred utensils, trumpets, and the ark; and consulting Yahweh by Urim and Thummim (Nm 31:6; 1 Sm 4:4; 14:3, 18, 36-42; 2 Chr 13:12-14).  Here they only give encouragement before the battle.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 582)


Israel’s policies of warfare, like everything else in its corporate life, were to be guided by the principle of glorifying Yahweh.  The nation’s soldiers were not to be intimidated by their enemies’ legions or arsenals.  If Israel’s enemies had horses and chariots and greater numbers than theirs, they were first to do battle with their own fears and recognize that the Lord would be with them in battle.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 242)


Deuteronomy here recognizes that no human situation will justify the setting aside of moral and ethical standards.  The Spirit of the Lord is determinative in all the details of every task, even in war.  Here is a needed corrective to modern thinking.  Though men fight, God is still God.  Discipline is consistent with sympathy and forbearance.  The Lord our God goes before, not just to strengthen his people’s effort, but to keep alive the spirit of holiness.  To feel compelled to use force is not to be granted a holiday for profanity and moral laxness.  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2., 456-7)


We learn from Scripture that God will try and test our faith–because it is what makes it grow.  Faith grows with exercise, but decreases with neglect.  Satan will do all he can to keep us from faith.  Spiritual Warfare is always about Satan’s attempt to get us to doubt God and throw/cast off our confidence in Him.  That is Satan’s main job.  Satan’s attacks are always on our faith.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)




The enemy is determined to destroy our faith because it can accomplish so much for God and His Kingdom.  He will be allowed to bring hard places, trials, testings to destroy it, but God uses those to strengthen and refine us as gold.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


During WWII, a military governor met with General George Patton in Sicily.  When he praised Patton highly for his courage and bravery, the general replied, “Sir, I am not a brave man.  The truth is, I am an utter craven coward.  I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.”

Years later, when Patton’s autobiography was published, it contained this significant statement by the general; “I learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.”


II-  The best warriors are those whose heart is focused on what they are fighting for.  (Dt 20:5-9, 19-20 see also: Mt 5:8;  Eph 6:10-18)


The Lord gave his people this rich land and all its blessings for them to enjoy; he didn’t want that peaceful way of life disrupted by warfare any more than absolutely necessary.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 183)


Enjoyment of the blessing of the land was thus their end purpose.  It would be tragic if Israelites should be killed without experiencing the very gifts and blessings for which the war was being fought.  “Thus, in these exemptions normal life in the land take precedence over the requirements of the army, but this somewhat idealistic approach (in modern terms) was possible only because of the profound conviction that military strength and victory lay, in the last resort, not in the army, but in God” (Craigie, Deuteronomy, 274).  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 229)


Never battle with a man who has nothing to lose, for then the conflict is unequal. — Baltasar Gracian


In other words, while we are under attack or assault, we stand and take all those thoughts captive.  Taking each thought, accusation, or suggestion and recognizing it for what it is intended to do to our faith–lead to doom and gloom and despair and bitterness and resentment and guilt and condemnation–take each one as it comes and replace it with a promise or a praise!  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


A critical spirit causes us to constantly seek for flaws in others rather than good.  A critical spirit causes us to complain–when this spirit is operating we usually do not have control over our tongues.

A person operating under a critical spirit often has a pride problem.  They want to put others down in order to make themselves look better.  The critical spirit sometimes operates along with a spirit of jealousy.  Jealousy attacks on top of the critical spirit so that one feels inferior and then seeks to elevate themselves by belittling comments towards others.  It can get really guly.  I have had the feeling of wanting to run away from someone who is harboring these spirits.  They are hurtful and demeaning.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


The jawbone of an ass is just as dangerous a weapon today as it was in Samson’s time. — James R. Swanson


Clearly domestic responsibilities are important to God.  Actually not only does this paragraph speak of responsibility, it talks about enjoyment of family matters.  The person who planted a new vineyard should be able to “enjoy its fruit.”  The person betrothed should go to his wife.  Later we are told that this freedom from war is for a whole year:  “He shall be free at home one year. . .”  And why?  “. . .to be happy with his wife whom he has taken” (24:5).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 488-9)


The officers (v. 5) were responsible for making sure that the army was composed of qualified men.  However, those most qualified were not necessarily those most gifted for battle.  The qualified were the committed–those whose eyes were on the Lord, those who were not distracted by circumstances or events that might dampen their spirits for battle.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 229)


These exemptions had an important bearing on the stability of Israel’s possession of Canaan.  Although in later times war was fought for defensive purposes, in the early stages of Israel’s history the purpose of war was to take possession of the land promised to God’s people so that Israel could live and prosper in it.  Building homes and planting vineyards, marrying and having children–this was the essence of life in the Promised Land.  Without these things, war would be pointless.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 230)


Since the best army was the one most committed to the Lord, anything or anyone who might affect the faith and confidence of the Israelite army was to be removed.  Cowardice in this setting was recognized as a spiritual problem.  Notice that this exemption was given to the men only after the priests had encouraged them by pointing to the might of God.  To continue fearfully was to not trust God completely.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 230)


A fearful person, a grumbler, or one who does not agree with the basic plan can affect the morale of the whole group.  A group needs to discuss the issues with dissenters and work hard to get unity.  This can be a very time-consuming activity.  But it is well worth it.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 491)


The expressions describing his disposition, “afraid” and “fainthearted,” are borrowed from verse 3.  This remarkable statement exempts a would-be warrior from military service out of respect for the psychological effect of his presence on his comrades (“his brothers”).  Despite the persistent acknowledgment of Yahweh’s hand in Israel’s battles, this statement recognizes the human dimension of war.  To the fainthearted, the brutality and life-threatening nature of war cause fear.  Unlike royal armies manned with conscripted troops, when Israel’s citizen army fights Yahweh’s wars, the character of individual troops is more important than their numbers.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 473)


Such prescriptions betray a philosophy of warfare that was different from that among the nations around Israel.  Israel’s profession of confidence in Yahweh was not to be merely lip service.  They were to act upon their conviction that God could do great things with only a few who were thoroughly dedicated to him.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 242)


For by this indulgence God shews how just it is, that every one should enjoy peaceably what he possesses; because, if it be hard that men on account of war should be deprived of the use of their new house, or of the produce of their vineyard, how much more harsh and intolerable it will be to deprive men of their fortunes, or to drive them from the lands which they justly call their own!  Since, therefore, it is expedient for the state that vineyards should be sown or planted, and that houses should be built, whilst men would not address themselves to these duties with sufficient alacrity, unless encouraged by the hope of enjoying them, God gives them the privilege of exemption from fighting, if they be owners of new houses which they have not yet inhabited.  He makes also the same appointment as to possessors of vineyards, if they have not yet tasted of the fruit of their labor, and will not have men torn from their affianced wives until they have enjoyed their embraces.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 175-6)


The eating by another of fruit one has planted is a covenant curse (Dt 28:30; cf. Amos 5:11; Jer 5:17).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 585)


The Law is Merciful.  Clement of Alexandria:  Again, the law in its humanity says that if a man has built a new house but has not yet moved in, or laid out a new vineyard but has not yet enjoyed the fruit, or become betrothed to a girl but has not yet married her, he is to be excused military service.  This makes military sense, since we would be unenthusiastic in our military service if we were being pulled in the direction of the things we longed for.  People expose themselves to danger without a second thought only if they are free in relation to natural impulses.  It is also humane, in the calculation that the outcome of war is uncertain and it is unjust for such a man not to benefit from his own labors or for someone else who has taken no trouble to possess the property of those who have put in the work.  Stromateis  (Thomas C. Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 3, 307)


Gideon and all of Israel learned that God counts hearts, not heads, when He wants a great work accomplished.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 230)


Theologically, the exemptions are linked here with the concept of “rest” in the land (12:9), which means freedom to enjoy its benefits without pressure from enemies.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 319)


The man who has married should be able to begin married life with his bride.  The related law in 24:5 specifies a year as the minimum period of this exemption.  The idea of consummation, and therefore of having children, is included in the marrying.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 319)


In the cases of house and vineyard, there are, no doubt, additional entailments of establishing legal ownership, and, in the case of marriage, of ensuring perpetuation of a man’s name through offspring.  Implied in all these are the right of individuals to have their share in the “inheritance” of Israel, the land given by Yahweh.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 319)


Paul said, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8).  We care for our family as part of being believers.  However, if the family gets in the way of our being faithful to Christ, then Christ has to be chosen over the family.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 490)


Some men die in battles

Some men die in flames

But most men die inch by inch

While playing little (silly)  games    —Unknown


III-  God’s purpose for war is to usher heaven on earth.  Not destroy the enemy.  (Unless that is the only way to pursue heaven on earth).   (Dt 20:10-20 see also: Mt 6:10; Jn 10:10; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Pt 5:8-9; 2 Pt 3:9-10)


If the Lord had extended his time of grace for the inhabitants of Canaan, would they have repented?  The Lord doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance, yet even his astounding patience finally runs out (2 Pt 3:9, 10).  The Savior God had to take this extreme step to protect his people’s faith and to preserve his promises.  To live alongside such conspicuous heathenism would have been a cancer that would have destroyed Israel’s faith.  Israel’s later history showed that they didn’t completely remove these peoples from the land, and their neighbors held a fatal attraction for Israel.  If the Lord had stood by and allowed Baal worship to destroy every trace of his promise, Jesus Christ would never have been born and lived and died for you and me.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 186)


The Lord prohibited the sort of unrestricted warfare that not only secured victory but ravaged the land for the use of future generations.  This law recognized wartime as a temporary necessity while protecting peacetime life, when families of the next generations would need the fruit these trees produced.  Later armies failed to follow this conservation-minded law, and much of Palestine was stripped bare for centuries.  Most of the impressive forests in the modern nation of Israel have been planted during the last century.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 187)


The preservation order on trees is supported by the rhetorical question in v. 19b; trees do not make war, and therefore should not be destroyed.  This scarcely means that trees have a higher value than human beings; only that they have a place in the natural order, yet are without the moral responsibility that humans have.  The exemption of non-fruit-bearing varieties (20) introduces a further criterion for the protection of trees, namely their usefulness for food.  Food is one of the essential blessings of the promised land.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 321-2)


Insofar as the law of herem was directed against a particular target, it depicts in microcosm the fate that awaits all who reject Yahweh as God and Savior.  The Scriptures are consistent in their message that evil and rebellion against Yahweh yield death.  Apart from the grace of God, this is the fate of all.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 484)


While the policy of herem involves a comprehensive call for the extermination, the door was opened for exceptions.  It is true that Deuteronomy and other biblical texts consistently portray the Canaanites as enemies of Israel rather than as potential “converts.”  Nevertheless, the sparing of Rahab and her household demonstrates that Canaanites who acknowledged Yahweh and case their lot with his people would find grace and deliverance in him.  The Canaanites had at least forty years of advance warning (cf. Rahab’s confession in Josh 2:8-11), and any individual who declared faith in Yahweh would be spared.  Indeed, so complete was Rahab’s incorporation into the community of faith that in the providence of God she became the ancestress of Jesus (Mt 1:5).  If God can save Rahab, he can save anyone.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 485)


According to Jer 25:9, Yahweh will send Nebuchadnezzar to Palestine as his instrument of herem against Judah.  In 51:3 the roles are reversed.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 480)


God’s elimination of the Canaanites was a necessary step in the history of salvation.  For Israel to achieve the goals that he had in mind for them–that they might declare to the world his glory and grace–they needed a clean slate.  It is a matter of ethical rather than ethnic cleansing.  A holy people requires a holy land.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 483)


The policy of herem was a divinely ordained means of dealing with sin.  It was not driven by genocidal or military considerations, but the need to eradicate evil and prevent evil from spreading to the new population.  The Canaanites were probably no more degenerate than other peoples of the time and region, but the policy was rooted in the perception of them as particularly wicked (Gn 15:16).  Their practices as a threat to the spiritual and ethical integrity of Israel, the holy people of Yahweh, actually reflect Yahweh’s grace toward the other nations, who deserved the same fate.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 483)


While the Hebrew construction is cryptic, it is not cast as a question.  It is preferable to interpret the clause more practically and to translate the second half of the verse something like, “You must not cut them down–for humankind [depends on] trees of the field–in order [for the town] to come under the siege before you.”

The NKJV interprets the phrase correctly:  “For the tree of the field is man’s food.”  The expression reflects human subsistence from fruit trees and represents an idiomatic way of saying, “Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” or “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  The trees symbolize life.  Since the Israelites will have conquered the fields around the besieged city and eventually will occupy the city, it is contrary to self-interest ruthlessly to cut down the orchards around the city.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 479)


The neglect of his horrendous but necessary task proved fatal to Israel’s life in succeeding generations.  The violation of God’s command led directly to the Babylonian captivity eight centuries later, because Israel did learn to follow all the detestable things the Canaanites did in worshiping their gods.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 243)


20:19-20.  Even in the business of warfare, Israel was to live as a people who exhibited self-control.  They were not to be destructive for destruction’s sake nor give vent to rage when difficulties emerged.  When Israel laid siege to a city for a long time, their boredom and frustration might lead them to forget that there would be a life after the war was ended.  Israel was to exercise a restrained approach toward the ecology of the Holy Land by refusing to destroy its trees in order to build siege works.  God reminded the Israelite army that those trees could sustain future generations and that their removal might hasten the battle but spoil the peace that followed.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 244)


God is a God of justice as well as a God of love.  To emphasize one facet of his personality at the expense of the other gives an incomplete picture.  He will forgive, but he will punish those who reject his love.  The sinner who spurns God can only expect his justice.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 185)


The general lesson of this paragraph, if we again remove it from the military sphere, is that we need to recognize who (or what) are the real enemies of faith.  The gravest spiritual dangers are often the unrecognized ones on our doorsteps.  Perhaps the greatest danger to the Christian life is sheer complacency–the failure to recognize that spiritual dangers even exist.  St. Paul was in no doubt that we need “the whole armor of God” (see Eph 6:10-18).  But on the other hand, those who are not against us are on our side (Mk 9:40); we must certainly not view non-Christians as automatically our enemies.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 119)


In the heat of battle it is all too easy to forget the needs of tomorrow.  The practical lesson is obvious; but in the spiritual sphere, we may need reminding that even in “fighting the good fight,” not all weapons and strategies are legitimate or prudent.  It is surprising how often keen Christians can lose sight of moral principles when they are convinced that their cause is the Lord’s; and if they are guilty of this, it will appear later that they have damaged Christ’s cause.  (David F. Payne, The Daily Study Bible Series: Dt, 119)


  1. When thou goest forth to war. He now teaches that, even in lawful wars, cruelty is to be repressed, and bloodshed to be abstained from as much as possible.  He therefore commands that, when they shall have come to take a city, they should first of all exhort its inhabitants to obtain peace by capitulating; and if they should do so, to keep them alive, and to be content with imposing a tribute on them.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 52)


  1. Here is the reason for totally destroying the inhabitants of Canaan: that they not teach Israel all the abominable things they do for their gods (7:4; 12:29-31; 14; 18:12; cf. Ex 23:33; 34:11-16).  The danger of Israel going after other gods and lapsing into idolatry is a main concern of Deuteronomy, perhaps its main concern.  Idolatry is remembered elsewhere as the great sin in the wilderness (Ex 32; Nm 25:1-3).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 588)


The sum is, that although the laws of war opened the gate to plunder and rapine, still they were to beware, as much as possible, lest the land being desolated, it should be barren for the future; in short, that the booty was so to be taken from the enemy, as that the advantage of the human race should still be considered, and that posterity might still be nourished by the trees which do not quickly arrive at the age of fruit-bearing.  He commands them to spare fruit-trees, first of all, for this reason, because they supply food to all men; and thus the blessing of God is manifested in them.  He then adds, as a second reason, that trees are exposed to everybody, whereby He signifies that war should not be waged with them as with men.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. III, 172)


The conquest was not only the means by which God granted the people the Promised Land; it was also the means by which God executed His judgment on the Canaanites for their sinfulness (9:4).  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 231)


The women in the nations mentioned in 20:10-15 (the Aramean culture) were not like those from the Canaanite culture.  Aramean women traditionally adopted the religions of their husbands.  It was for this reason that God allowed the Aramean women and children to be spared.  The influence of Jezebel, who brought her husband Ahab under the worship of Baal, demonstrates the destructive effects of marriage to a Canaanite wife.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 232)


Because the Israelites will be taking over the land in the hands of Canaanites, following these instructions becomes even more critical for their own long-range interests.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 478)


The policy of herem plays no favorites.  Although seven specific nations were targeted, Moses emphasized that if the Israelites act like Canaanites, abandon Yahweh, and serve other gods, they too will be subject to the same law–men, women, and children (Dt 7:25-26; 13:12-17 [13-18]).  The severity of the prescription in 13:15-16 [16-17] for Israelite towns that defect exceeds what chapter 7 and 20:17-18 demand of Canaanite towns.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 485)


As noted above, the herem policy was driven by religious rather than genocidal or military considerations:  the need to “keep Yahweh’s holy people free from syncretism and idolatry.”  For Israel, implementing herem on a town not only secured its absolute transfer to the divine sphere, it was also intended to secure Israel’s survival.  At the level of the material, it prevented Israelites from contamination by contact with the “devoted” articles, which would have brought them under the same curse and subject to destruction (7:25-26).  At the level of the spirit, it cut off the possibility of the Canaanites teaching the Israelites their abominable religious practices (cf. 12:30-31; 13:1-18 [2-19]; 18:9).  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 477)


A particular war may be justified for some reason, but the possibility of life for a people must not be removed for ever.  The food-producing potential of the trees is in relation to the indigenous people; the besieging Israelites may, however, use them for their own needs on the occasion in question.  Deuteronomy comes close here to a theology of creation, alongside its highly developed theology of covenant.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 322)



Worship Point:  God created us to live in shalom.  Satan has encouraged us to bring conflict, strife, war, bloodshed, and death into the world through our selfishness, greed, pride and lust.  Worship the God of the Universe Who can transform your life to possess the Fruit of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh.  (Gal 5:19-23; 2 Cor 4:4)


One of the features of the coming Messianic kingdom is the abolition of war (Isa 2:4; Mic 4:3).  That our society today still resorts to war proves nothing except that men are terribly resistant to the grace of God.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 232)


Gospel Application:  God’s favor rests on Jesus.  It is only when we are “In Christ” that we enjoy the right to receive God’s blessing, protection and provision as well as assurance of ultimate victory.   Because Jesus transformed our lives into a new creation.  (Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 5:17)


After forty years of training in the wilderness Moses says, “Watch out!  You never get to the place where you can stand on your own.  Never.”  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 227)


God never makes us so strong that we no longer need Him.  Never.  We will continually be dependent upon Him.  Ironically, realizing our weakness and dependence is the secret to our strength and success.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 227)


The devil can traffic in any area of darkness, even the darkness that still exists in a Christian’s heart.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 15)



Spiritual Challenge: God wants you to win the wars you are righteously fighting:  In your finances, relationships, health, identity, security, provision, future and within yourself.  But you must submit to God and be “In Christ” to have assurance of ultimate victory over Satan.  We fight with the Armor of God.  (Prv 20:7; Jn 10:10; 1 Cor 15: 57; 2 Cor 10:3-5; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Tm 6:12; 2 Tm 4:7; Jam 4:7; 2 Pt 5:8-9; 1 Jn 5:4)


While the NT recognizes that the kingdoms of this world will continue to solve their conflicts with violence and war, the troops in the divine army march at the orders of the divine Commander-in-Chief.  The Lord calls on his people to return evil directed at them with good, to turn the other cheek to those who abuse them, and like Christ to sacrifice their lives that others may live.  In this kingdom of radicals committed to bringing peace rather than war, the next persons’ right to life always takes precedence over my own.  The law of herem was never about vengeance in the OT, and Christians must beware of taking vengeance into their own hands.  Those who walk by faith trust God to defend his own.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 486)


Consider that seemingly insignificant band of persecuted Christians in the first century, attacked by Jews and Gentiles, used by the Emperor Nero as scapegoats to take the blame for the great fires of Rome.  Yet within three centuries Rome had bowed its knee to Christ without the use of any weapons of war by the Christians.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 484)


If earthly military needs demand such study and careful preparation, how much more our preparation to meet our enemy demands our most diligent effort.  The believer who does not become familiar with spiritual warfare will indeed be a poor soldier of Jesus Christ.  The believer’s enemies are engaged in unprecedented activity against him today.  Christians are under concentrated attack (today).  (Mark Bubeck as quoted by Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


Christians fight spiritual warfare by repentance, faith and obedience.  (David Powlison; Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare, 36)


Spiritual warfare is the blood, sweat, and tears of dying to one’s self and listening to God.  (David Powlison; Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare, 119)


During the assault–we must persevere in “thought capturing.”  God will not let it go on for any longer than HE HAS DESIGNED.  HE IS IN CONTROL HERE AND NOT THE ENEMY.  While we STAND we continue to take EVERY THOUGHT captive.  The enemy will continue to hurl everything at us to break through our wall of resistance.  If one should get by us–and we begin to feel a downward pull in our spirit, we at once find the thought, grab it the minute we recognize it and say “NO!”  “I WON’T HAVE THIS.”  And we replace it–refuse to think on it, with PRAISE AND A PROMISE.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


Here’s the truth–Anytime we allow evil imaginations to rule over the message of the written Word of God, we sin and can expect to have the peace of God leave from our lives until we return to the Word and align ourselves with God’s thoughts.  By “evil imaginations” I’m talking about imagining things and circumstances to be a certain way without knowing the truth.

God tells us in His Word that we are to “Cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”  (2 Cor 10:5).  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101″ study)


If we claim a promise half-heartedly or without much desire, or with no determination to persevere in the battle and in prayer, or not be willing to wait on the Lord we are limited, and we limit Him.  BUT, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, persistently refusing to see anything except the promise, taking all our doubting, fearful thoughts “captive” by refusing to believe them or think on them our faith will become strong and increase.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


So when adverse circumstances come in life, the child of God must learn to see what God says in His Word about the problem.  Then the believer must choose, through a deliberate act of his will, to believe what God has to say about the situation and bring his thoughts into obedience.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


The weapons of the Church are the same as those of Christ:  truth and love.  It is to teach and love mankind into desiring and seeking the complete psychological and social harmony that only obedience to God and love of God can produce.  (Chad Walsh, Early Christians of the 21st Century, 179)


Who hath a greater combat than he that laboreth to overcome himself?  This ought to be our endeavor, to conquer ourselves, and daily to wax stronger and to make a further growth in holiness.  (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, I:3:3)


Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  —Plato


But if we are to win the battle on the stage of human history, it will take a prior commitment to fighting the spiritual battle with the only weapons that will be effective.  It will take a life committed to Christ, founded on truth, lived in righteousness and grounded in the gospel.  It is interesting to note that all of the weapons which Paul lists up to this point are defensive.  The only offensive weapon mentioned is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Francis A. Schaeffer; The Great Evangelical Disaster, 25)


We must realize that it is not Satan who defeats us; it is our openness to him.  To perfectly subdue the devil we must walk in the “shelter of the Most High” (Ps 91:1).   Satan is tolerated for one purpose:  the warfare between the devil and God’s saints thrust us into Christlikeness, where the nature of Christ become our only place of rest and security.   God allows warfare to facilitate His eternal plan, which is to make man in His image.   (Francis Frangipane as quoted in Beth Moore; Praying God’s Word, 323)


Christian living, as Rom 8:13 declares, is a continual battle that involves doing violence to those inner sinful impulses that Paul calls “the flesh.”  Like Israel of old, we have a territory to conquer, a country to which God assigned us and one that is occupied by forces that have our destruction in mind.  As Moses warned Israel, we are to go into our spiritual battles with one thought in mind:  take no prisoners.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 241)


Just as Israel was told to claim the promised land by putting the soles of their feet upon it, so Christians are to lay claim to their inner lives for Jesus Christ.  The battle may be long and challenging, but with God’s help success is assured.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 244)


Let us recognize before we do warfare that the areas we hide in darkness are the very areas of our future defeat.  Often the battles we face will not cease until we discover and repent from the darkness that is within us.  If we will be effective in spiritual warfare, we must be discerning of our own hearts; we must walk humbly with our God.  Our first course of action must be, “Submit…to God.”  Then, as we “resist the devil…he will flee” (Jam 4:7).  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 16)


If you want an easy time as a Christian, all you have to do is to get far away from Jesus Christ—move away to the periphery of the battle.  If you are out there, Satan is not going to bother you much.   That is where he wants you.   However, if you draw close to the Lord, as Paul wished to do, and join with Him in the battle, then Satan’s arrows will start coming at you.  The battle will be hard.  And you will find it necessary to use God’s weapons for the conflict.  (James Boice, Commentary on Phil 3:13-14, 230)


God can never entrust His kingdom to anyone who has not been broken of pride, for pride is the armor of darkness itself.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 17)


Victory begins with the name of Jesus on your lips, but it will not be consummated until the nature of Jesus is in your heart.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 18)


Satan fears virtue.  He is terrified of humility; he hates it.  He sees a humble person and it sends chills down his back.  His hair stands up when Christians kneel down, for humility is the surrender of the soul to God.  The devil trembles before the meek because, in the very areas where he once had access, there stands the Lord, and Satan is terrified of Jesus Christ.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 21)


If we were not familiar almost from birth with this inner war, it would strike us as extremely odd.  The animals can apparently boast nothing analogous; the nature of a mouse or a lion is all of one piece.  Man is the only house divided.  The Christian explanation is telescoped in the story of Adam and Eve.  It is a tale of a splendid beginning and a ruinous downfall.  Man, as designed by God, did not carry a battlefield inside him.  As long as he made God the center of his life he was in joyous harmony with himself, God, and his neighbors.  The schism in human nature began when man ejected God from the central position and set himself up on a makeshift throne.  Instantly, dozens of clamorous demands arose.  The new center was inadequate to maintain harmony.  Each facet of the personality warred with every other, and each individual man was in competition with his fellows.  (Chad Walsh, Early Christians of the 21st Century, 70)



We are commanded to “resist” the devil, to take a stand against him, now!  Those intent on submitting to God ask, “how?”

TACTICS  God has not left us without battle plans.  Here are some of his instructions:

Refuse to accept Satan’s suggestion that we can be        Rom 8:38-39

separated from Christ.

Ignore the temptation to doubt God’s grace.   1 Jn 3:19-24

Reject the lie that we are beyond forgiveness. 1 Jn 1:9

Pray before, during, and after attacks by the devil.            Phil 4:4-7; 1 Thes 5:16-24; Jas 1:2-8

Allow Christ to replace our way of thinking with his         Phil 2:5-8; 4:8-9;

way of thinking.                                                  Rom 12:1-2



While the devil employs weapons of terror and illusion, God equips us with weapons of real power.  They are only ineffective when we leave them unused.  Among them are:

The belt of truth–wherever the truth is spoken and          Eph 6:14; Jn 8:32;

lived, the devil is unwelcome.                            14:6; 17:17

The breastplate of righteousness–living rightly is            Eph 6:14; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pt

the result of advanced training in the faith.   2:12

When we are living under God’s guidance we are on

guard  against the devil’s attacks.

The footwear of the gospel of peace–communicating       Eph 6:15; Mt 24:14;

the gospel is taking back territory                     Rom 1:16

controlled by the devil.

The shield of faith–our faith in Christ makes him               Eph 6:16; Heb 11:1;

our shield and protector.                                    1 Pt 1:3-5

The helmet of salvation–the salvation that God offers     Eph 6:17; 1 Thes 5:8-9;

is our eternal protection.                                     Rom 1:16

The sword of the Spirit, God’s Word–the Bible is a          Eph 6:17; 2 Tm 3:16;

weapon when its truth is put to use,               Heb 4:12

exposing the devil’s work and helping those

who are losing the battle.

Prayer–in prayer we rely on God’s help.           Eph 6:18-20; Heb 4:16; Jas 5:13-16

(Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 102-3)


One of the joys of surrender is a deep peace.  Rebellion means war, so it is no surprise that surrender means peace.  This peace gives us a new freedom in our relationships.  As always, true Christian spirituality has implications for community living in families and churches.  Thomas a Kempis said if we are not surrendered to God, we will be at war with others.  “He that is well in peace, is not suspicious of any man.  But he that is discontented and troubled, is tossed with divers suspicions:  he is neither at rest himself nor suffereth others to be at rest…He considereth what others are bound to do, and neglecteth that which is bound to himself.”  (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, II:3:1)  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 99-100)


So there was no more room for me to complain.  I found that the most potent weapon against complaining or even questioning is the gift of thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving became my doorway to a more mature surrender.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 96)


According to 2 Sm 7:1, David had fully occupied the promised land by military victories; the war against Ammon was undertaken after this in response to a studied insult and preparations for an attack on Israel (2 Sm 10:1-6).  The war of conquest, therefore, would not end all wars.  Israel, as a political entity within the world of its day, was bound to be involved in political and military strategy.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 317)


Sometimes God will surprise us by giving us amazing ability to face certain challenges that seem beyond us.  But generally he will call us in keeping with our giftedness.  I had a colleague who fearlessly served God in the war zone in Sri Lanka for fifteen years and did a heroic ministry there.  But if he is responsible for organizing a big program he is a bundle of nerves.  I had another colleague who thrived with big programs and bravely blazed some new daring trails for the gospel.  But he was very scared about going to the war zone.  The Bible is aware of human frailty and makes allowance for that.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 490-1)



So What?:  I know it is hard for you to think of fighting during Advent; but just remember Herod and the babies of Bethlehem.   Death, violence, conflict, and war is just as much a part of Christmas as it is a part of everyday life.  Remember God’s promises as you prepare to fight.  (Josh 1:9; Rom 7:14-25; 8:31, 37; 1 Cor 15:57; 1 Tm 6:12; 2 Tm 2:3-4; 4:7; Jam 4:1-2; 1 Pt 2:11; 1 Jn 4:4)


Live well.  Die better.  — Pastor Keith


I have conquered an empire but I haven’t been able to conquer myself.”  (Peter the Great as quoted by Joe Boney of the Wilderness Baptist Church of DuBois WY 9/19/04)


I’m for “overcoming” the enemy and the Word says we can be MORE than CONQUERERS!  Start listening to your thoughts and discerning where they are coming from.  If a negative, critical thought comes–reject it as many times as it takes to be free from it.  But not just reject–replace it with a positive uplifting thought.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


Someone said “Claiming God’s promises is the heart of our prayer life.  We simply take back to God His Word (promise)–what He said He would do.”  In other words, we don’t have to try to twist His arm and persuade Him to do something He’s not inclined to do.  We don’t have to feel like God probably doesn’t want to do “this or that” for me, but I will ask Him anyway.  GOD SAYS HIS PROMISES ARE YEA AND AMEN!  It brings great joy to His heart when His children come to Him and say “Please fulfill this promise in my life” and then persist and persevere in claiming it UNTIL it is fulfilled.  How many times have we wasted a promise and not seen it fulfilled because our faith wavers or we become apathetic in our prayer life.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


Doubts must be rejected and feelings must be ignored.  Our feelings are not facts.  God’s word is fact!  If anything gets to our feelings we must examine to find the thought behind the feeling.  If we entertain the thought it will become a feeling and we will go under.

Sometimes we take a thought and instead of asking the Lord if it is from Him, we believe it and say “I feel this way, therefore it must be true.”  This is why so many people are constantly defeated.  They accept their feelings as facts instead of catching the lying thought behind the feeling.

Christ is the ground of my peace.  Therefore it is His responsibility to take me through every situation.  So I cannot, I will not believe this fear, this sudden anxiety which grips my heart.  It is sent to shake my confidence in Christ.  It is an attempt to destroy my peace, my testimony and my relationship with HIM.  (Sharon Titus, “Spiritual Warfare 101” study)


What if being human means to keep vigil, to long to be free, to battle with pain, to be discontented with the fallen world in which we live to weep, to hunger, thirst, to mourn to wait.  What if to become inhumane is to accept this fallen world as the norm?  (Paraphrase of Henri Nouwen; Reaching Out, 24)


The battle isn’t ours to win but ours to stand.  (D. James Kennedy; What Is God Like?, 152)


The four paradoxes of Alcoholics Anonymous have tapped into the heart of this kind of spiritual power.  They say, “We surrender to win; we give away to keep; we suffer to get well; we die to live.”  (Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Luke, 305)


Cardinals are very territorial and will fight off intruding cardinals zealously.  At that time, we owned a van which had large side mirrors and chrome bumpers.  Occasionally, the cardinal would attack the bumpers or mirrors, thinking his reflection was another bird.  One day, as I watched the cardinal assail the mirror, I thought, “What a foolish creature; his enemy is merely the reflection of himself.”  Immediately the Lord spoke to my heart, “And so also are many of your enemies the reflection of yourself.”

Before we have any strategy for attacking Satan, we must make sure that the real enemy is not our own carnal nature.  We must ask ourselves, Are the things oppressing us today the harvest of what we planted yesterday?  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 22-3)


Nothing is clearer than the fact that the Christian gets power from God in exact proportion to the extent of his self-surrender. The reason of this is obvious. It comes to pass by the action of a necessary law. In the human body the privation of any one of the senses intensifies the power of those that remain. If, for example, the sight is lost, the touch and taste become more acute.  It is exactly so among the three factors of our life — body, soul and spirit. Whatever any one surrenders is carried over to the credit of the others, and inures to their strength. “As the outward man perisheth, the inward man is renewed day by day.”   — A. J. GORDON.



You may be tempted to surrender just a token sin or some minor fault, while allowing your most serious iniquity to remain entrenched and well-hidden.  Let us realize, therefore, that the energies we expend in keeping our sins secret are the actual “materials” of which a stronghold is made.  The demon you are fighting is actually using your thoughts to protect his access to your life.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 32)


The meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.  — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn






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